Feminist Lens: The Handmaids Tale
Particicution (Pg. 347-350)
Trigger warning for discussion on rape
What’s really interesting to take note of before examining this section is the name of this section; Particicution is the portmanteau of participation and execution (at least that’s the first thing I thought of whilst reading the title of that section) and is demonstrated to be accurate as the section goes on. This grim name indicates the participation in the execution, although it seems unclear of whom that execution is. From a feminist perspective there’s a lot of ideas floating around in this passage.
The first one would be the buildup of anger towards the rapist. These are women that have gone most of their life with no other purpose but to be used for reproduction. When you look at the socialization that they go through, they’re sort of built to believe that the use of their body for reproduction isn’t rape ONLY when the man they belong to uses it and mostly because it is decreed as legal. I think it kind of plays into the modern view of rape and how a lot of people react to it, especially the media.
Often time’s society brings excuses to rape like “she was drunk” or “look at what she was wearing” or “he’s a man, it’s not rape because he should have enjoyed it”. So a lot of rape victim feeling invalidated or consider don’t consider themselves to have been raped at all. So I think, that’s reflected here when they’re so socialized to believe that because it’s legal for their “owners” to make use of their body, that it’s not rape. Doesn’t that sound like “Oh he/she’s my boyfriend/girlfriend so I didn’t rape her/him because sex is mandatory in a relationship”?
On page 348, there’s a quote that supports this argument. Atwood writes:
“This man,” says Aunt Lydia, “has been convicted of rape.” Her voice trembles with rage, and a kind of triumph. “He was once a Guardian. He has disgraced his uniform. He has abused his position of trust. His partner in viciousness has already been shot. The penalty for rape, as you know, is death. Deuteronomy 22:23-29.” (Pg. 348)
If the penalty for rape is death, then why aren’t they killing the commanders? Because they’re socialized to think that it’s not rape. Bam, case and point.
Going from that, we see that even if the term “rape” isn’t use to describe their job, that there is that underlying anger buildup towards rapists that could prove that morally they don’t like their job (no surprise there) and that it does build up anger.
Atwood describes this feeling as follows:
“There’s an energy building here, a murmur, a tremor of readiness and anger. The bodies tense, the eyes are brighter, as if aiming.” (Pg. 347)
It also furthers the point that they’re socialized to see a very distinctive line that separates the commanders from the rapist. It puts into contrast the whole Commanders and Rapist being polar opposites on the chain of hierarchy even if they technically commit the same crime amidst “different” circumstances.
The second idea, which is more underlying, is the conviction of the “rapist” without further investigation. The statistics are very low but in our modern society there is still a small problem of wrongful conviction for rapist. And it does tarnish an individual’s reputation. Even if the statistics of wrongly convicted or accused rapist is extremely low, I will argue that the issue is still important, and is represented through this passage. The women are so quick to act, without evidence or the word of the “victim” and therefore don’t really have any concrete evidence apart from Aunt Lydia’s word. The supporting quote for this is as follows:
“He wasn’t a rapist at all, he was political. He was one of ours.” (Pg. 350)
Once again, this passage has great reflection of our modern day society and how rape culture has a huge influence on why so many rapes are unreported or simply don’t go to trial. We, as a society, will often find a way to blame the victim for the rape and will dismiss it as being a crime. Overall, Atwood does well to portray it in this passage.